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Barbie looks like a box office beauty, racking up the best preview night numbers of the year and heading for a weekend gross that could top $100 million — which could buy Warner Bros. a bunch of dream homes.
But the Mattel icon’s pink Corvette has come a very long way to the big screen, and before writer-director Greta Gerwig, screenwriter Noah Baumbach and star Margot Robbie, there were other great creatives attached to the “on-again, off-again” project.
Below is a brief history of Barbie’s journey from one of the world’s most popular toys to the cinemas:
1959. Barbie fashion doll, created by Ruth Handler, is launched.
Literally 50 years go by.
2009: Mattel, the creators of Barbie, sign a deal with Universal Pictures to make a film about the iconic doll. That deal is blown.
2014: Sony has acquired the rights to Barbie. The project has seen a number of screenwriters try their hand at screenwriting including Sex and the city writer Jenny Bicks and Academy Award winner Juno writer Diabo Cody. “I think I know why I shit in bed,” Cody said in a recent GQ interview. “When I was first hired for this, I don’t think the culture didn’t have (yes) embraced the women or the child as still valid feminist archetypes. If you look up Barbie on TikTok, you’ll find this wonderful subculture that celebrates the feminine, but in 2014, taking this thin, blonde, white doll and turning her into a heroine was a tall order… That idea of an anti-Barbie made a lot of sense given the feminist rhetoric of a decade ago. Back then I didn’t really have the freedom to write something that was faithful to the iconography; they wanted a feminist spin on Barbie, and I just couldn’t figure it out because that’s not what Barbie is. Cody added, “I’ve heard endless references to The Lego Movie in development, and it gave me a problem because they had done it so well. Whenever I came up with something meta, it was too similar to what they had done. That was a stumbling block for me, but now enough time has passed that I can throw (The Lego Movie antagonist) Will Ferrell as the real-life antagonist Barbie movies, and nobody cares.
2016: Comedian and Train disaster star Amy Schumer has been tapped to star in the live-action Barbie film, and tried to write the screenplay together with Kim Caramele. Their idea had been described as a fish out of water story about a doll played by Schumer who gets kicked out of Barbieland for not being perfect enough.
2017: Schumer abandoned the project, citing “scheduling conflicts”. he then said The Hollywood Reporter during an interview on the 2022 cover story that creative differences were at play. Schumer had written Barbie as an ambitious inventor and said the studio asked for Barbie’s invention to be a high heel made out of jelly and was sent a pair of Manolo Blahniks to celebrate. “The idea that that’s just what every woman has to want, right there, I should have said, ‘You’ve got the wrong girl,'” he said. “They didn’t want to do it the way I wanted to do it, the only way I was interested in doing it.” A few months later, Anne Hathaway signed up for Barbie alongside Olivia Milch (Ocean’s 8) and director Alethea Jones (Mrs Davis). But even that version of the project ended up falling apart.
2018: Rights to Barbie pass to Warner Bros.
2019: Once upon a time in Hollywood AND Suicide squad star Margot Robbie was billed as Barbie (and also co-producing the film through her entertainment banner LuckyChap). There were initial rumors that Patty Jenkins could direct and they didn’t pan out, but Robbie credited Jenkins’ success with 2017 Wonder Woman for helping Barbie get the green light. Director Greta Gerwig (Little Women) came aboard in July 2021 and teamed up with Noah Baumbach (Fantastic Mr. Fox) to write the script. In October, Ryan Gosling (Guide) was launched as Ken. Robbie said after first reading the script, he thought, “This is so good. Too bad it will never see the light of day, because they will never let us make this film.”
2020-2021: Gerwig and Baumbach write screenplay, citing influences ranging from Revive Ophelia TO The red shoes TO Planet of the Apes. The story follows Barbie and Ken as they leave their utopia Barbieland and embark on a journey of self-discovery in the real world.
2022. The film is primarily shot at Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, England. Warner Bros. released the first image of Robbie as the iconic doll and then, a few months later, revealed Ken. The first footage debuted later that year.
2023: Barbie it ended up costing $145 million. Warner Bros. steps up Barbie craze with major marketing blitz with at least $70 million in partnerships ranging from Airbnb to Xbox. Among the most notable stunts, was the creation of a real-life Barbie Dreamhouse in Malibu. Early reactions to the film, and its subsequent reviews, have been enthusiastic, with the film garnering a 90% critical rating and a matching audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. AS DAY put it: “Gerwig delights in the richness and weirdness of her material in this clever parody of Barbie dolls and their fraught legacy. She is impressive how the director, known for her astute and narratively precise dramas, has inserted herself into a corporate film. Barbie it’s driven by jokes—sometimes outrageous laughter, always chuckle-worthy—that poke fun at Mattel, prod the ridicule of doll lore, and hint at the contradictions of our sexist society.
– Tiffany Taylor contributed to this story